August 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein

Have you ever heard the music for “West Side Story?” Leonard Bernstein wrote it!

This American conductor, composer, pianist, and author was born on this day in Massachusetts, in the U.S., to Ukrainian Jewish parents. He studied music at Harvard University and did some post-grad work at a special music school in Philadelphia. (In his conducting class, Bernstein got the only “A” grade his teacher, Fritz Reiner, ever awarded anyone, any time.)

Bernstein composed music for ballet, opera, musical theater, and film. He created pieces and symphonies simply for their own sake, to be played by orchestras. He created chamber music, choral and vocal music, and piano music. He won several Tony awards and tons of Grammy awards.

Celebrate composing your own pieces.

If you have a piano, fiddle around until you find a sequence of notes (a musical phrase, as it were) that you really like. Then build on it. Reverse the notes. Play the phrase higher and lower. Add flourishes. Vary into a completely different sequence, and then go back to the original.

If you don't have a piano, try using the virtual piano found here or here. Notice that the first website has different sounds and drum beats available, and the second website has a “record” option with which you can save and replay the tune you are creating. Have fun!

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